Bolton offer jolts debate over Trump's impeachment trial

John Bolton just made Mitch McConnell's impeachment plans a lot more complicated.
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By Steve Benen

There's little doubt that former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton has important information about Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal -- information that could be directly relevant to the president's impeachment proceedings. To date, however, Bolton has remained silent, ignoring a U.S. House subpoena at the White House's direction.

This morning, however, things changed.

John Bolton, the former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, said Monday he was willing to testify in the Senate impeachment trial if subpoenaed. [...]

Bolton had a front-row seat to the White House's pressure campaign against Ukraine to investigate the son of Trump's political rival, Joe Biden, including the decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine. He served as Trump's national security adviser for more than a year, until his departure in September just a couple of weeks before the Ukraine pressure effort became public.

In a statement posted online today, Bolton wrote, "I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify."

This doesn't necessarily mean Bolton will testify, but his willingness to answer questions about the ongoing scandal, under oath, represents a rather dramatic and unexpected curveball.

It also just made Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) plans quite a bit more complicated.

Remember, the GOP leader has at least paid lip-service to the idea of the chamber holding a fair and credible impeachment trial, but McConnell has also made clear he does not want to see any additional witnesses called who could speak directly to Trump's innocence or guilt.

Bolton volunteering, however, changes the nature of the game. It puts McConnell and Senate Republicans in a position in which they'll have to decide whether to hear from an important witness, who's ready to talk, and who has first-hand information directly relevant to the case, or whether GOP senators will say, "No, thanks, we prefer willful ignorance."

Indeed, given the procedural context, Bolton's testimony would come in response to a Senate subpoena, which further accentuates the Republicans' awkward dilemma: why would anyone vote against issuing a subpoena to a knowledgeable witness who's volunteered to testify? Or more to the point, how would anyone vote against such a subpoena and then pretend to care about a fair impeachment trial?

Complicating matters, if Bolton were to testify, and he shared information that proved devastating to Team Trump, how exactly would Senate Republicans justify ignoring the revelations and siding with the president anyway?

Some caveats are probably in order. It's entirely possible, for example, that Bolton is engaged in some kind of press stunt, perhaps related to his upcoming book. He may also be working from the assumption that the Republican-led Senate will never subpoena Bolton, so he gets to appear transparent without having to actually disclose important information.

For that matter, I'd recommend progressive critics of the White House pause before getting too excited by the prospect of John Bolton, of all people, helping bring down Donald Trump.

But today's news does help underscore a larger truth: we may think we know what's going to happen in the eventual impeachment trial, and the odds of the president being acquitted by the Republican-led chamber may be good, but some humility is probably in order. Bolton's announcement caught the political world off-guard, and there may yet be additional surprises.

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